Au Bon Pain

*** (3 stars)

This is one of the better places to grab something to take on a plane with you. The sandwiches are made to order (if you’re willing to wait in a fairly sluggish line) and the ingredients are fresh, especially the breads. If you’re in a hurry, the prepackaged sandwiches in the front case are actually quite decent. It certainly beats a bag of peanuts.

Au Bon Pain
9202 Jeff Fuqua Blvd
Orlando, FL 32827
(407) 825-7851
http://www.yelp.com/biz/au-bon-pain-orlando-2

4 Rivers Smokehouse

***** (5 stars)

Indeed, in a city of BBQ joints, this is the best. At most BBQ places I lik sliced pork, but the ticket here is either the “burnt ends”, a mixture of beef and pork from the edges that is seared to perfection and mixed with BBQ sauce, or the brisket, which is best just as a lump on your tray rather than a sandwich. Most of the sides are less exciting than these two entrees, although the do have some tasty (and caloric) desserts.

4 Rivers Smokehouse
1600 W Fairbanks Ave
Winter Park, FL 32789
(407) 474-8377
http://www.yelp.com/biz/4-rivers-smokehouse-winter-park-2

TooJay’s

** (2 stars)

This place has the most annoying front of house personnel in the city. The restaurant may be half empty, but they’ll keep you standing there for ten minutes while they act officious. This is not the description of a single experience, it’s the description of every experience I’ve had during ten years, every time someone has dragged me to this place. The food is fine, but I’m so annoyed by the time I’m seated that I can never enjoy it. Orlando has very few delis. But we could get by with one less.

TooJay’s
7600 Dr. Phillips Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32819
(407) 355-0340
http://www.yelp.com/biz/toojays-orlando-4

Yellow Dog Eats

***** (5 stars)

This is a wonderfully funky hangout that the locals fill every day at lunch for the best sandwiches you can get in Central Florida–and perhaps anywhere.

The pulled pork is a favorite, but nothing here is that simple. Add applewood smoked bacon, a hint of raspberry sauce, some of the house-made and bottled mustard BBQ sauces… superb.

But my personal favorite is the Kitty Cat Nap salad, Organic greens, raspberry vinaigrette, and the most amazing heap of exotic tuna–filled with craisins, nuts, and Chinese five spice.

Owner Fish Morgan circulates and makes everyone feel at home. Well, at home with a wacky brother, anyway!

Parking is behind the place through a narrow drive on the left, or across the street. Eat out back, in the charming patio.

Yellow Dog is hard to find, but packed every day. That says it all.

Yellow Dog Eats
1236 Hempel Ave
Windermere, FL 34786
(407) 296-0609
http://www.yelp.com/biz/yellow-dog-eats-windermere-2

Jean Pierre’s Bistro

***** (5 stars)

For some time I’d been wanting to try Jean Pierre’s Bistro, a French bistro and bakery in Water Tower Place, the cute shopping village in front of Disney’s Celebration. Orlando doesn’t really have any true French bistros, with the possible exception of  Chefs de France at Epcot, which isn’t exactly convenient–or cheap.

I had some doubts when we arrived at Jean Pierre’s for dinner, because the place was deserted, and quite brightly lit, more like what you’d expect from a bakery or a sandwich shop–both of which it is, during the daytime. So it wasn’t exactly the ambiance I was hoping for from an evening bistro. But the food was everything I’d hoped for.

We started with the house made paté, a cheese plate, smoked salmon, and a salad with traditional French vinaigrette. All were excellent, especially the pate (really a terrine), which was fresh, flavorful, and had a wonderful mixture of spices on the outside. We could have used some soft, stinky cheeses, but I understand why American tastes run to firmer, less fragrant ones, and the half dozen choices were all very flavorful. The salmon was fresh and very smokey, with just the right accompaniments, and the salad was perfect, just like in Paris.

Our main courses were Beef Bourguignon and Chicken in a mushroom and madeira sauce. Both sauces were excellent, and each was accompanied by a rich, creamy dish of scalloped potatoes. A particular highlight was the fresh baked French baguette, which was plentiful and very authentic. As parting gifts the owner bestowed upon us glasses of Muscat and a fresh loaf of this wonderful bread to take with us.

I was impressed that the owner, with little assistance, could turn out such a diverse offering in so little time; and there were at least twenty other dishes we could have chosen. Prices are very reasonable, and the wine list has a couple of nice choices at good prices. It’s too bad his location isn’t higher profile, and that his website is fairly poor, because this is just the sort of French bistro Orlando needs.

Jean Pierre’s Bistro
17 Blake Blvd
Celebration, FL 34747
(321) 939-7588
http://www.yelp.com/biz/jean-pierres-bistro-celebration

Al’s Deli

**** (4 stars)

Al’s Deli was founded in 1949 by Al Pottinger, a francophile, who offered European groceries, baked goods, soups and sandwiches. His sons took the business over in the 1970s, and are still there. They offer traditional french sandwiches such as brie on a baguette, plus homemade soups. The Soup au Pistou I had today was wonderful, a cup full of chunky vegetables with a dollop of garlic aeoli that turned it into something you might find in a bouillabaisse. They also make six types of enormous, tasty cookies themselves. The place is a short walk from NU, in the charming little area around Noyes and Sherman.

Al’s Deli
914 Noyes St
Evanston, IL 60201
(847) 475-9400
http://www.yelp.com/biz/als-deli-evanston